Say the words “Chevrolet Impala” to Americans of a certain age and you’ll see them slip into a wistful reverie, fueled by fond memories of their childhood. Back in its day, the Impala was a dream car of sorts. Curiously, while remaining relatively affordable, the Chevrolet Impala was simultaneously something of a status symbol. Ed Cole, Chevrolet's chief engineer in the late 1950s, defined the Impala as a "prestige car within the reach of the average American citizen."
And the average American citizen reached out and embraced the Impala like no car before it, or frankly, since. Every American family either owned an Impala, had a neighbor who owned an Impala, or knew somebody that owned an Impala. At the peak of its popularity, in the mid-1960s, the Impala sold well over 1,000,000 units in a single year. The two best selling cars in America today (Honda Accord and Toyota Camry), their total sales combined (800,000 units on average), don’t begin to approach the numbers racked up by the Chevrolet Impala during its heyday.
Part of the appeal of the car, aside from its affordable pricing and flamboyant styling was the fact it could be configured (much as Mercedes-Benz does today with the E-Class), to be a relatively mild-mannered family car, a semi luxurious personal coupe, or a fire-breathing high performance car — depending upon your engine, equipment and transmission choices. With the introduction of the Impala Super Sport (SS) in 1961, Chevrolet, creating what could be considered the first American muscle car (although that notoriety is typically ascribed to the 1964 Pontiac GTO), drew significant attention to the Impala and set it “on the road” to iconic status.
Ironically, the full-blown emergence of the muscle car phenomenon is part of what eventually led to the model’s decline in sales and ultimate cancellation in 1985. However, proving there’s nothing wrong with a car line more power won’t fix, Chevrolet brought the Impala back for another go in 1994. This time, purely as a high performance Super Sport model, flaunting a 260-horsepower version of the 1994 5.7-liter Corvette’s V-8 engine.
Interestingly though, there is disagreement as to whether the 1994 – ‘96 Impala SS should really be considered an Impala. Detractors argue the car is really just a high-performance version of the ‘91 – ‘96 Caprice. Of course, this completely overlooks the fact the first Impala was really just a top of the line Bel Air — but we digress. Based as it was on the 1990’s Chevrolet Caprice Police Package, that somewhat limited production car sold from 1994 to 1996, and is still quite sought after to this day. The Chevrolet Impala was officially brought back as a standalone series production model for 2000. There have been two generations of Impalas offered since its resurrection.
For those of you who don’t know, an Impala is a very fast-running breed of antelope indigenous to southern Africa.